10 Best Boston Bands
How could a tally of the all-time 10 best rock bands in Boston leave off Rock Hall of Famers Aerosmith or even eponymous Beantown rockers Boston? Simple: Neither is among the city’s 10 best. Sure, Boston’s ‘More Than a Feeling’ sold a bazillion records, and Steven Tyler‘s bad boys are as synonymous with Boston as the Tea Party, Tom Brady and ‘Cheers,’ but the city has for decades boasted a thriving alternative-music scene that could give much bigger metros a run for their money. Is it something in the water flowing down the Charles River? We’re not sure, but listen to any of the entries on our 10 Best Boston Bands list and you may just get a little more insight into the whole scene — or at least something other than ‘Dream On’ to put on the jukebox if you ever pay a visit to ‘Cheers.’
If it weren’t for the Pixies, modern rock music as we know it would be dramatically different. Immensely influential to a whole generation of alternative rockers — Kurt Cobain famously worried that Nirvana‘s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ was too obviously a Pixies ripoff — the Pixies used crunchy guitars, catchy pop melodies, loud-and-soft dynamics and willfully oddball lyrics to create a distinct sonic blueprint that’s been often approximated but never equaled.
The Cars were on the forefront of the burgeoning New Wave movement when they unleashed their self-titled debut album in 1979 after having been signed to a record deal on the strength of a demo version of ‘Just What I Needed,’ which would become the album’s first single. Over the next decade, the Ric Okasek-fronted outfit would go on to release five more platinum-certified platters and a string of hit singles (‘Shake It Up,’ ‘You Might Think,’ ‘Drive’ and ‘Tonight She Comes’ all reached the Top 10) before breaking up. They reunited in 2010.
Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers
There’s more to Jonathan Richman than ‘There’s Something About Mary,’ that Farrelly Brothers’ flick that memorably featured Jonathan as one half of a two-man Greek chorus giving a running commentary on the film’s plot. Once dubbed the ‘Godfather of Punk,’ Richman embarked on a successful solo career after his time fronting the Modern Lovers, a wildly original proto-punk band that’s been name-checked and covered by everyone from the Sex Pistols and Iggy Pop to Madder Rose and Titus Andronicus.
Mission of Burma
Mission of Burma didn’t get nearly the attention they deserved their first time around — the fact that the four-year run produced just one EP (1981’s ‘Signals, Calls, and Marches’) and one album (1982’s ‘Vs.’) probably had something to do with it — but since reuniting in 2002, the ferociously loud post-punk act has released four more excellent albums to near-universal critical claim. Mission accomplished.
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones
Boston’s Bosstones have spent nearly 30 years busting out a Beantown-inspired brew of ska punk, drawing on the city’s fertile ’80s hardcore scene for inspiration on their way to becoming known as the originators of the ska-core sub-genre. The band’s mainstream popularity peaked in the ’90s as they became one of the preeminent members of American ska’s third wave, spending much of the decade on the road in support of albums like 1997’s platinum-certified ‘Let’s Face It.’
Here’s to you, Evan Dando. Formed back when indie rock went by the self-limiting term “college rock,” the Lemonheads deftly turned local popularity into a more widespread affair, garnering a cult-like following and transforming dreamboat frontman Dando into the go-to crush for aspiring indie-rock teen girls the world over. Their best known single — an upbeat, punk-ish cover of Simon & Garfunkel ‘Mrs. Robinson’ that was tacked onto the end of 1992’s ‘It’s a Shame About Ray’ — recently resurfaced in Martin Scorsese’s 2013 film ‘The Wolf of Wall Street.’
Morphine were Boston’s original proprietors of low-end theory. Combining elements of rock, jazz and experimental noise, the trio employed a down-tuned, two-string bass, a double saxophone attack and singer Mark Sandman’s gravelly baritone to produce a sound that spanned the spectrum from neo-beat poetry wrapped in an Earth-rattling racket to gorgeous balladry floating in a bluesy, narcotic haze. Sandman’s tragic 1999 death while performing onstage in Italy sadly meant a much-too-early exit for Morphine, who immediately called it quits.
Lots of bands worship at the altar of the Velvet Underground; few bands can start with the VU blueprint and still manage to build something as original as Luna. After three albums with the similarly Velvets-obsessed Galaxie 500, singer Dean Wareham formed Luna, a dream-pop outfit that became vastly influential in its own right — and was once described by Rolling Stone as “the best band you’ve never heard of.”
The Dropkick Murphys didn’t invent Celtic punk — the melding of punk rock and traditional Celtic music was first delivered by Irish act the Pogues — but the Murphys brought it to Boston. Given the city’s thriving punk scene and large population of Celtic immigrants, Celtic punk fits Beantown like a glove — and the Murphys have steadily grown in stature since their 1998 debut album, ‘Do or Die,’ reaching arena rock status last year with a headlining concert at TD Garden, home of (of course!) the Boston Celtics.
The Dresden Dolls
Before Amanda Palmer was raising $300K on Kickstarter and turning heads with her ‘Do It Like a Rockstar’ video, she was one-half of the duo the Dresden Dolls, a band that quickly shot up from the Boston underground to become arguably the most successful dark cabaret act in the world, gaining a sizable cult following in the process.